Elizabeth Wright
Congressional Staff Tour Cryo-EM Research Centers in Biochemistry Department

Legislative staff to members of Congress from the Wisconsin delegation toured UW–Madison the week of Aug. 14, including a stop at the Department of Biochemistry’s cryo-electron microscopy research centers, where they learned how this advanced biomolecular imaging technology can be used in basic and translational science. The two-day tour also included visits to other UW–Madison locations, including the Dairy Cattle Center and College of Engineering, among others. 

Cryo-EM uses ultracold temperatures to capture detailed information about the smallest components and interactions in living cells, viruses, and more. The UW–Madison Cryo-Electron Microscopy Research Center (CEMRC) and Midwest Center for Cryo-Electron Tomography (MCCET) provide access and training to cryo-EM and represent a continuation of UW–Madison’s long history of contributions to structural biology — and collaborative discovery.

“One of the advantages of having both cryo-EM centers here on campus is their ability to help scientists build interdisciplinary collaborations across campus and the country,” says CEMRC and MCCET director and biochemistry professor Elizabeth Wright.

The centers are supported by federal and UW–Madison funding sources and are currently hosting over 140 research projects from UW–Madison and across the country. MCCET, which is fully funded by the National Institutes of Health, is free to users and makes cryo-EM more accessible to scientists who might not otherwise be connected to a research nexus like UW–Madison.

Photos from legislative staff's visit to the cryo-EM centers are below.

Tour group in the Cryo-Electron Microscopy Research Center, viewing the Krios 1 microscope with Elizabeth Wright and Daniel Parrell.
Staff learned the ins and outs of cryo-EM from Daniel Parrell, a postdoctoral researcher in the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center whose research on bacteria informs our knowledge of antibiotic resistance, and center director and biochemistry professor Elizabeth Wright.
Photo: Laura Vanderploeg.

Staff talk to Josh Mitchell and Jae Yang, while Elizabeth Wright looks on.



Graduate student Josh Mitchell shared how access to cryo-EM through MCCET furthers his
research on eosinophils, a type of white blood cell. Mitchell collaborates with Jae Yang, a scientist in MCCET and the Wright Lab. Cryo-EM allows Mitchell
to see proteins and other parts of eosinophils at higher resolutions than other microscopy techniques. It’s like “unearthing a woolly mammoth and being able to see its individual hairs, perfectly preserved in arctic ice,” Mitchell said. Photo: Laura Vanderploeg.

Staff stand and listen among computers and whiteboards in the MCCET office.


Staff also visited the centers’ “hub” of computational activity. Here, scientists use high-powered computers to turn cryo-EM images into biomolecular structures. “We render two-dimensional grayscale cryo-EM images into three-dimensional structures, kind of like a Pixar movie," Wright said. Photo: Laura Vanderploeg.

CALS Dean Glenda Gillaspy and Associate Dean Mark Rickenbach talk with Daniel Parrell about his research.

CALS Dean Glenda Gillaspy and CALS Associate Dean Mark Rickenbach joined the visit. Gillaspy’s first day on campus was Aug. 4. Photo: Laura Vanderploeg.










Media contact: Catherine Steffel, Ph.D., csteffel@wisc.edu.